After the groundbreaking recent revelation that doctors should consider using this new-fangled thing called email, it's a pleasant surprise to hear that a new unit has sprung up to modernise NHS tech.
Called NHSX -- because everything cool has an X on it now – the joint organisation will "bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician" by combining "the best talent from government, the NHS and industry."
The NHSX-Men, if you will.
The announcement notes that as we've all experienced, a lot of NHS systems rely on tech from the analogue age. It's deeply infuriating when you're undergoing important tests and your notes get lost in the snail mail, as happened to me in 20 actual 18.
Apparently, a big reason for the glacial pace of change up to now has been the fact that responsibility is split between a tonne of different units, agencies, teams, organisations and stakeholders. We've all been on those projects with a million decision-makers to run everything past, and we've all seen how little they accomplish. Hopefully NHSX's Healthcare Avengers (they are 100% superheroes in our heads, and we won't be persuaded otherwise) will be the solution.
The new organisation will have responsibility for some pretty important things:
- Coordination and consistency: Setting national policy for NHS technology, digital and data (including data-sharing and transparency). Setting the strategy, developing best practice guidance, coordinating activities across the arms-length bodies and national/central programmes. Becoming a single point of accountability for national digital transformation programmes and the oversight of NHS Digital.
- Setting standards: Developing, agreeing and mandating clear standards (on user experience, open standards, information governance, open source, etc) for the use of technology in the NHS. Ensuring that NHS systems become interoperable and that the NHS can incorporate the latest innovations without breaking the technical plumbing underneath.
- Driving implementation: Helping to improve clinical care by delivering agile, user-focused projects. Developing digital care pathways and solving administrative challenges across the NHS, delivering APIs and documentation to empower developers and data analysts across the NHS and the health tech industry, driving digital and tech maturity in local NHS organisations.
- Radical innovation: Supporting the use of new, emergent and effective technologies by the NHS, both by working with industry and via its own prototyping and development capability.
- Common technologies and services: Ensuring that common technologies and services, including the NHS App, are designed so that so that trusts and surgeries don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. Ensuring that all source code is open by default so that anyone who wants to write code for the NHS can see what we need.
- Reforming procurement: Helping the NHS buy the right technology through the application of technology standards, streamlined spend controls and new procurement frameworks that support our standards.
- Cyber policy: Setting national strategy and mandating cyber security standards, so that NHS and social care systems have security designed in from the start.
- Digital capability: Championing and developing digital training, skills and culture so our staff are digital-ready.
- Governance: delivering an efficient process for technology spend, domain name management, website security. The effectiveness of governance arrangements will be regularly reviewed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock comments:
"Modern technology has an incredible potential to change people’s lives for the better and revolutionise the care they receive.
Because I care about patients getting the best treatment, I care about the NHS getting the best technology. But everyone knows how hard it’s been to get the NHS to adopt the best in digital. We’ve set out a clear tech vision for the NHS, which underpins our NHS Long Term Plan. Now we’re bringing together the tech leadership into NHSX, which will be responsible for harnessing the true potential of technology to transform care, save lives, free up clinicians’ time and empower patients to take greater control of their own health.
NHSX will combine some of the best minds from among the NHS, leading innovators, and government into one unit to set national policy, remove red tape and create a culture of innovation to allow the best innovations to flourish.
This is just the beginning of the tech revolution, building on our Long Term Plan to create a predictive, preventative and unrivalled NHS."
And Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital, adds:
"The NHS Long Term Plan describes a hugely ambitious vision for the next generation of the NHS and much of that vision depends on new digital, data and technology capabilities. The program of digital transformation ahead of us is extraordinary in terms of its scale, its complexity and the extent to which it can change lives.
It will require sophisticated strategic planning, strong leadership and very tight partnership between organisations across the system. This new joint venture between the organisations who currently define digital strategy and commission digital services will create cohesion in these activities by concentrating work and capabilities in one unit.
Within NHS Digital we view NHSX as an important and welcome initiative and we are absolutely committed to working closely with colleagues in NHSX to make this new venture a success."
Between this and the actually quite sensible train reform suggestions, could things... actually be getting better? We'll park our cynicism for now, because dear lord do we need some good news this week.
NHSX-Men to the rescue!